The politics of building on greenbelt land is a serious hurdle for any building project to overcome. Despite intense pressure on housing in the UK, there is still a widespread reluctance to free this land for building. The alternative is to build on so-called “brownfield” sites. These are disused areas within existing town or city boundaries that are often the former locations of factories or businesses. Although building on brownfield sites helps to contain urban sprawl, they present their own challenges to construction.
Writing for HowStuffWorks, Echo Surina explains:
“Besides environmental benefits, redeveloping these derelict locations can have social and economic perks. Dilapidated industrial sites can transform into thriving office buildings, apartments, luxury mixed-use facilities, shopping centres, public parks and more. Brownfield redevelopment can breathe new life into neighbourhoods and spur the transformation of entire cities by attracting people into a community core for work or play. Such efforts increase local tax bases and facilitate job growth.”
One benefit to building on brownfield sites is that there is often an existing infrastructure and transport network for the area. This is in contrast with greenbelt projects, where time and money will need to be spent in order to connect the new estate or office complex with the wider world. There is also the issue of traffic to consider. If handled incorrectly, building on greenbelt land might clog up roadways in the nearby town as its population swells.
In recent years, councils have been encouraged to keep brownfield registers, as a way of recording and publicising the available brownfield sites in their boroughs. Additionally, in 2016 the government pledged to get planning permission for at least 90% of sites suitable for housing construction. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t always as simple as it seems.
Although building on brownfield sites helps combat urban sprawl, there’s no guarantee of the quality of the site. It might be that it was originally used for a factory or plant. In this case, the ground may be contaminated, meaning costly measures will need to be taken in order to make the site safe. This is a process known as remediation, and can take three forms: bioremediation, phytoremediation and in-situ chemical oxidation. The first two use natural processes. Bioremediation involves the use of fungi or bacteria to naturally break down any harmful contaminants, while phytoremediation employs plants to soak up contaminants through their roots. The final alternative works by injecting the ground with oxygen or oxidants to break down compounds left behind in the soil.
Brownfield sites can also be located in poor or neglected areas, presenting a socio-economic challenge to house builders in particular. Building a series of new apartments or houses in a poor area will mean a subsequent difficulty when it comes to finding new tenants to move into the area. The issue of ‘unfeeling’ gentrification is also increasingly prominent in the news. By suddenly raising the property values of an area, house builders may actually force current tenants out of their homes, many of whom have lived there for generations.
Two thirds of brownfield sites are located in the north across various cities, yet the highest demand for housing is in the south, particularly in and around London. This is putting incredible pressure on councils to make greenbelt land available. For more information on brownfield sites or to learn about what our designers can do for you, get in touch with us or take a look around our site today.
Photo by Steven Brown [CC BY-SA 2.0]